Today, one out of every six children suffers from some form of neurodevelopmental abnormality. The causes are mostly unknown. Some environmental chemicals are known to cause brain damage and many more are suspected of it, but few have been tested for such effects. Philippe Grandjean provides an authoritative and engaging analysis of how environmental hazards can damage brain development and what we can do about it.
The brain's development is uniquely sensitive to toxic chemicals, and even small deficits may negatively impact our academic achievements, economic success, risk of delinquency, and quality of life. Chemicals such as mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), arsenic, and certain pesticides pose an insidious threat to the development of the next generation's brains. When chemicals in the environment affect the development of a child's brain, he or she is at risk for mental retardation, cerebral palsy, autism, ADHD, and a range of learning disabilities and other deficits that will remain for a lifetime.
We can halt chemical brain drain and protect the next generation, however, and Grandjean tells us how. First, we need to control all of the 200 industrial chemicals that have already been proven to affect brain functions in adults, as their effects on the developing brain are likely even worse. We must also push for routine testing for brain toxicity, stricter regulation of chemical emissions, and more required disclosure on the part of industries who unleash hazardous chemicals into products and the environment. Decisions can still be made to protect the brains of future generations.
"[Only One Chance] is factual, rationally developed, and nuanced, without pulling punches. It argues for a social conscience, adequate premarket research, communication, and regulation. Chemical damage to the developing brain is not destiny. Grandjean explains why and how society must intervene to prevent exposures now and in the years ahead. Highly recommended."
"Only One Chance shaves off layer after layer of ignorance, naiveté, and corruption as it exposes the hidden dangers from industrial chemicals. Grandjean's book reads like a thriller and gives us a unique chance to decide that the next generation's brains must be protected against toxic brain drainers."
– Devra Lee Davis, author of The Secret History of the War on Cancer and National Book Award finalist
"In his crisply written, deeply documented book, Dr. Philippe Grandjean, renowned physician and public health specialist, describes the exquisite vulnerability of the developing human brain to toxic chemicals in the environment, a vulnerability that he ascribes to the brain's almost unimaginable complexity. Today, nearly one in every 6 children is born with a neurodevelopmental disorder – a birth defect of the brain. One in 8 has attention deficit disorder. One in 88 is diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. These rates are far higher than those of a generation ago, and, although they are less publicized, the problems are more prevalent than those caused by thalidomide in the 1960's. The increases are far too rapid to be genetic. They cannot be explained by better diagnosis. How then could they have come to be? Dr. Grandjean has a diagnosis – the thousands of toxic chemicals that have been released to the environment in the past 40 years with no testing for toxicity. David P. Rall, former Director of the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, once stated that 'If thalidomide had caused a ten-point loss of IQ rather than obvious birth defects of the limbs, it would probably still be on the market'. This is the core message of Dr. Grandjean's 'must read' book."
– Philip J. Landrigan, Dean for Global Health, Ethel H. Wise Professor and Chairman and Director, Children's Environmental Health Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine
"This is an exceptionally interesting book. Professor Philippe Grandjean presents and interprets extensive research on the impact of common chemicals present in the environment on human neurodevelopment using an original and holistic point of view and introducing the concept of 'chemical brain drain'. This is an innovative approach underlining the cumulated and long term impact on the brain of different chemical exposures. Grandjean argues that brain drain hampers the very capacity of human society to progress if its most precious resource, the brain, is not adequately protected. The accuracy of the review, the analysis of the interaction between brain development and society, the approaches to dealing with uncertainties and action, make this book fundamental reading for medical and public health professionals, students, and policy makers. I am convinced it will set a new standard for public health action and research for the coming years."
– Roberto Bertollini, Chief Scientist and World Health Organization Representative to the European Union
"This book is a huge gift to humankind from an eminent scientist. Grandjean tells the truth about how we have been ruining the brain power of each new generation and asks if there are still enough intelligent people in the world today to reverse the problem. I cannot rid myself of the idea that too many brains have been drained and society is beyond the point of no return. We must learn from the follies and scandals that Grandjean reveals and stop the chemical brain drain before it is too late."
– Theo Colborn, President, TEDX (The Endocrine Disruption Exchange)
Introduction: Brain Matters: Only One Chance to Develop a Brain
1. Sensitive Development: Complexity Creates Vulnerability
2. Toxic Invasion: The Placenta Is Not a Protective Armor
3. Invisible Lead: Health Hazards from Demanding Scientific Proof
4. Poisoned Science: Mercury Damaged the Child's Brain but Did Not Harm the Mother
5. Substituted Milk: Poisoning During Infancy Causes Permanent Brain Damage
6. Persistent Problems: Chemicals Resistant to Break-Down Can Break Brain Cells
7. Unusual Suspects: Chemicals That Protect the Lawn May Damage the Brain
8. Mindless Costs: Losses Suffered by Victims and Society from Chemical Brain Drain
9. Inconvenient Truths: Vested Interests Can Endanger Brain Development
10. Brainy Choices: How to Secure Optimal Brain Development for the Next Generation
Appendix: Chemicals Known to Be Brain Drainers
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Philippe Grandjean is Professor and Chair of Environmental Medicine at the University of Southern Denmark and Adjunct Professor of Environmental Health in the Department of Environmental Health at Harvard School of Public Health. He has devoted his career to studying how environmental chemicals affect children and their brain development. His studies on mercury triggered an international response that led to a United Nations agreement to control mercury pollution. He has studied children in the U.S. and Denmark, in the Faroe Islands, and countries in South America and Asia, and he has published about 500 scientific papers on his findings.